Friday, April 3, 2015

April Phenology 2015

Harbinger of spring
Phenology - the scientific study of periodic biological phenomena.
The harbinger of spring were hiding in the leaf litter a few days ago, announcing the arrival of the spring ephemeral wildflower season.  Within several days they are followed in rapid order by trout lily, trillium, and a variety of other tiny beauties.  To see them you have to bend over and of course, get outside!

 Noppadol Paothong
April is the time when the woods and fields come back alive.  After months of few new findings on a hike, all of a sudden everything is new as dormant life awakens and fertility cycles begin again.  Turkey are out everywhere, gobbling confidently in the knowledge that they are safe until youth season begins April 11th.

Belted kingfisher - Joe Motto
The belted kingfisher, a small bird with attitude and a bad haircut, began its loud chattering patrols up and down the creek last week, proclaiming its dominance to all within half a mile.  Birds of Missouri lists it as uncommon but we always have a pair taking possession on low slung branches above the shallow stretches of the creek.

The eastern american toad usually starts calling in mid-April, but we heard a preview last week as one tried to overcome the chorus of spring peepers.  Their high pitched trilling call seems to hang on forever, up to 30 seconds, as you wait for it to stop for a breath. They will soon be mating and you can look for their distinctive long, double strands of eggs in ephemeral collections of water.

Eastern tent caterpillar egg case
Eastern tent caterpillars will emerge from their egg cases which encircle the branches of our plum trees, ready to start building their web-like homes.  These will protect them by creating many layers of walls, insulating them against the cold.  Look for the cases and you will soon see tiny holes appearing before you will find the caterpillars.  Their host trees flowers will be the first to bloom along our drive.

Hummingbirds will start arriving any day now.  They will be hungry from their trip back from their wintering grounds in Central America and most will be moving on after fueling up.  Even though it was blustery today, we have loaded up the bird feeders, as there won't be many other nectar sources around for a while until columbine starts blooming  They can also feed on tree sap and flying insects but both are hard to come by at this time of year.

Snakes begin to emerge from their hibernaculum (dens) when average temperature of the soil warms sufficiently.  Watch for copperheads - they are just minding their own business and you are too big for them to eat so they don't want to waste venom on you.  Leave them alone unless they are around your house.

Copperhead - (he was photographing the mushroom) - Mark Bower

Serviceberry blossom - Wikimedia
Dogwoods and redbuds will soon be in bloom, preceded by the delicate white serviceberry blossoms.  Nearer to urban areas you will see the early blossoms of Bradford pear trees and their invasive callery pear offspring, a reminder to plant native species in their place.
Three-toes box turtle laying her eggs
Why did the turtle cross the road?  In a few weeks it will be due to their raging hormones driving them to look for love.  This is a dangerous occupation as they commonly cross roads in their quest.  If you are lucky you might get to see a female digging a hole to deposit her eggs. 

Black vulture parent - 2015
Our annual big April event has occurred; the black vultures are brooding again in our old barn.  After five years of observing them, they look bored when I open the door to the stall.  Today he/she (they both brood the eggs) glared at me for a minutes before getting up to show me the eggs.  I think it knew the paparazzi would not leave until he had the photograph.  This weekend their seasonal neighbors the barn swallows arrived and are adding their nests in the eaves above them.

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